by Alia Sisson, Precious Blood Volunteer
“I practice the ‘highest’ law in the ‘highest’ court, the law of charity in the court of heaven.” – Sr. Nirmala Joshi
As I gear up for the biggest test of my life, the Ohio bar exam, I find this quote comforting. Not because if I fail then I can quip, “Oh, it’s okay, I practice the law of charity in the court of heaven,” but because it is a reminder of the ultimate truth: God’s law. While I am honored and privileged to be a future lawyer, I pray that my vocation will not only keep a roof over my head, but also enable me to be an agent of charity through the legal system. While it is important to have a fulfilling career, my highest ambition is to be a conduit of the Holy Spirit to those whom I serve.
With a political science degree and three years of formal legal training, you could say I am a big proponent of “law and order.” However, I cannot deny that we live in a country with a dark history in which some were – and still are – considered “more equal than others” (in the prescient words of George Orwell). Even our language about certain groups of people betrays our true feelings. Depending on whether you call people “illegal aliens” or “undocumented immigrants,” I can pretty much predict your views on immigration policy. Despite the distinctions drawn by U.S. law, I am reminded that under God’s law we are all His children worthy of safety, love, and respect. While it is important to follow the law, blind obedience to unjust laws does not serve the interest of justice for the human family.
In my volunteer placement through Precious Blood, I assist the attorneys at Legal Aid of Western Missouri in applying Missouri law to the facts of each individual’s case. However, we also practice the law of charity – Legal Aid only helps those too poor to afford a lawyer. We receive hundreds of calls and referrals per week from people in desperate need of legal help with issues ranging from housing to child custody to immigration. It saddens me that so many people feel crushed by poverty and forgotten by politicians beholden to wealthy donors. Often times, we are their last hope for justice.
As Precious Blood Volunteers, we not only help the poor, we are the poor. Of course there is the caveat that volunteers choose to live simply for a year, rather than endure a lifetime of unrelenting poverty by necessity. Nonetheless, this intentional pillar of the Precious Blood program is one of the most wonderfully uncomfortable and growth-inducing aspects. I now understand why religious orders take vows of poverty. It is not a punishment; it is an opportunity to critically examine what we value and how few material things we actually need to be happy. It is truly a gift that shows every good thing we have is from God alone. In fact, most material comforts are merely an obstacle to holiness (iPhone, I’m looking at you).
As a child, thanks to my family, I never had to think about food, shelter, or clothing – they just appeared. Later, in college and law school, thanks to my good friend “Sallie Mae,” I was able to mindlessly shop when I was bored, perusing endless aisles of fluorescent lit products I soon felt I couldn’t live without. I slowly amassed closets full of designer clothes, yet I still felt empty and restless. This undoubtedly first-world problem was nonetheless a true poverty, borne of the lack of a deep relationship with our Creator.
Now on my modest volunteer stipend, I no longer have the so-called “luxury” of mindless – and frankly egotistical – consumerism. I am happy with everything I can fit in two suitcases, and smile to realize it is still more than enough. Through this experience, I have learned that the fewer possessions I have, the more room I have to grow in love and charity. In the long run, self-denial is the road to freedom because we are freed of unhealthy attachments that separate us from God. Especially during Lent, we are called to reflect on these truths and learn them through experience.
As a completely unexpected side benefit of this life lesson, forced to become a less vapid person, I have picked up a hobby that is both free and incredibly liberating: running!
Beginning in October, a month after I arrived in Kansas City, I started to run basically on a whim. I didn’t have a goal other than to run a mile without stopping. Soon I had conquered the 5k distance, and by January I ran a 10k race after a weeklong battle with the flu. Now I am training for my first half-marathon, which is coming up on April 14. In September, I will conquer the full distance, 26.2 miles, at the Air Force Marathon in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
Beyond the physical and mental benefits of training, there is something profoundly inspirational about continuing to put one foot in front of the other despite pain and exhaustion. It’s something Jesus did to the extreme, during his passion when he felt the most lonely and abandoned. It’s something I see my clients do every day at Legal Aid. It something I still need to work on in my own incredibly privileged life.
As I meditate on Christ’s passion throughout the waning days of Lent, I am reminded that in every seemingly hopeless situation, God is there waiting to comfort. Remaining optimistic despite fear and pain is something I am gradually learning with every client helped, every mile run, and every law outline studied. No matter the outcome, God is semper fidelis (always faithful). The true test is whether or not we as “the faithful” live up to that name.
Soon, God willing, I will be practicing law as an attorney. I will apply the laws of Ohio to assist clients with their legal needs. In this sense, I will be seeking individual justice. In the broader sense, with every case I will seek to reinforce the self-evident truth that ALL men and women are created equal.
Lest we forget, Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Through his death and resurrection, he made it possible for everyone to be saved if they freely choose Him. As we prepare for and witness the Easter miracle in 2018, let us ask ourselves if we are living according to God’s law as He has called us to do.
So what exactly does that look like?
As always, the Gospel is a good place to start. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-39).
You can apply to become a Precious Blood Volunteer and serve at Legal Aid of Western Missouri by going to our application page.
You can learn more about our placement at Legal Aid of Western Missouri here.